Hearing loss is a leading health concern for approximately 360 million people around the world1. While there are a number of ways to restore hearing through devices such as hearing aids, researchers remain in pursuit of a total cure.
However, a new study could represent an important breakthrough in hearing loss research by regenerating sensitive auditory hair cells.
The importance of auditory hair cells
The tiny auditory hair cells in our ear play a vital role in our hearing, receiving incoming sound and transforming it from vibrations to chemical signals that can be interpreted by the brain.
However, they can often become damaged due to an overexposure to loud noise, as well as being subject to general degeneration as we age2. Once lost, these sensitive cells don't grow back, impacting our hearing.
This was the area of focus for a recent study by the St Jude Children's Research Hospital, where researchers successfully regenerated hair cells in adult mice.
Taking inspiration from nature
"In this study, we looked to Mother Nature for answers and we were rewarded," said author Dr Jian Zuo 2.
Dr Zuo explained that they aimed to mimic processes in fish and chicken, two animals whose auditory hair cells grow back, unlike in humans. The team used genetic manipulation to get cells in the inner ear to act like young auditory hair cells.
"The results suggest that regenerating auditory hair cells will likely require multiple factors to stimulate the process," said Dr Zuo.
"Work continues to identify the other factors, including small molecules, necessary to not only promote the maturation and survival of the newly generated hair cells, but also increase their number."
While further studies would be needed to determine if this technique could be used to treat hearing loss in humans, it's certainly an exciting development in the field.
If you feel your hearing isn't what it used to be, don't hesitate to reach out to your local Adelaide Digital Hearing clinic. Our expert team will not only be able to assess the condition of your hearing, but we can also assist you in finding the right solution for your needs.
You can book your FREE* hearing check here, or give us a call on 1800 940 982.
1WHO, Deafness and hearing loss. Accessed May, 2017
2St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Success of sensory cell regeneration raises hope for hearing restoration. Accessed May, 2017